Joan Sallis answers your questions
Q. We get many requests from teachers for time off without pay, mainly to accompany partners overseas. Often there is a programme for wives as part of a conference, so some suggestion that it is almost a duty or at least expected. Should governors be involved in such decisions? We only get to hear in the context of supply cover or if there is muttering among the staff about decisions "depending on the state of the head's ulcer". Pupils often suffer: a GCSE group in a subject where there is only one teacher was without her for a critical two weeks of revision time and results were noticeably down. We have a full programme of revision classes during study leave yet I heard the teacher concerned say how lucky it was that the opportunity came when Year 11 were on study leave. She also said that she didn't feel guilty because she gave so much out-of-school time to pupils' sporting activities.
I am very concerned by what you say, for it sounds as if these concessions have got out of hand. In a neighbourhood where a fair number of staff have partners with such opportunities, there will be some teachers who can afford time off without pay. It is certainly not being well managed, and it is dangerously divisive if staff suspect, as yours do, that decisions are made on a basis which isn't public.
I do not suggest that governors determine every trivial case, but I think for his own protection your head needs both to get governors to lay down guidelines and to undertake to bring any difficult applications to you. I agree with you that unpaid leave on the scale you indicate is damaging to pupils.
You may think my own attitude is harsh, but I believe the guidelines should be really strict. The fact that it is an attractive trip where partners are welcome should really not be enough. I would say there should be an element of once-in-a-lifetime about the occasion and that even then it should normally be for something the teacher has done, won, or otherwise brought about on hisher own account. I know that teachers are disadvantaged in not being able to take holidays just when they like and that most contribute a great deal to extra-curricular activities, but they enter the profession in full awareness of these factors and they also have generous breaks from routine.
Now that there is evidence that some action is needed it would probably help your head if governors took the initiative. You must indicate that you would like to have the general issue on the agenda with a view to drawing up guidelines, making the point that it is helpful for staff to know where they stand. You should then ensure that all staff see the resulting guidance.